A jury on Wednesday convicted Rene Laso, a 56-year-old resident of Zachary Place in Palm Coast, on two counts of aggravated assault in the stabbing of a man and a woman at Smiles night club a year and a half ago. The incident was triggered after Laso propositioned the woman for sexual favors in exchange for $5,000.
The three-day trial took place before County Judge Andrea Totten, who usually presides over misdemeanors. Laso faces up to 30 years in prison when Totten sentences him. The sentencing date has not been scheduled. Laso had been out on bond since the incident. He was returned to the county jail, his bond revoked.
The incident took place early the morning of May 24, 2021, involving Donald Hudson and his girlfriend, P.J., an then employed at the nearby bowling alley. Laso had been harassing her at work for months, she told Flagler County Sheriff’s deputies, and in the weeks before the incident, had allegedly offered her $5,000 if she had sex with him. She declined. She ran into him at Smiles, where Hudson confronted Laso about the proposition, asking him if he’d propositioned his girlfriend. Laso twice denied that he had, but called the woman “a one hundred dollar hooker,” according to court papers.
The two men fought, P.J. tried to intervene, and Laso threatened–“I have a knife and will cut you”–before pulling out the knife and swinging. Both P.J. and Hudson were injured with stab wounds. Other patrons jumped on Laso and kept him from leaving on his motorcycle, enabling deputies to get to the scene. Laso was arrested that night.
Laso had attempted a stand-your-ground defense through his Assistant Public Defender, Spencer O’Neal. O’Neal argued that Hudson had initiated the confrontation outside the bar. After Laso first denied that he’d propositioned his girlfriend, Hudson called her to come out from the bar and asked Laso again. He again denied it, but insulted P.J. The woman then punched Laso, according to the Stand Your Ground motion. He fell to the ground and either the woman or Hudson then yanked a chain from his neck and stood over him “in a fighting stance.” Hudson, a veteran, is larger than Laso.
“In order to prevent the imminent beating, while still on the ground, from a larger opponent and an additional opponent,” the defense argued, “Laso took his knife from his waist and used it in self-defense.” Laso stabbed upwards at Hudson and P.J. P.J. was wounded in the forearm. Hudson was cut in the stomach, the back and shoulder. Laso, the defense argued, then tried run away from the couple, but Hudson and others chased him, and Hudson and P.J. threw his motorcycle to the ground.
Self-defense again played a central role in the trial. The jury could have opted to convict him on lesser charges of felony battery or misdemeanor battery, but declined to do so. The case was prosecuted by Tara Libby and Alexander Gilewicz.
The jury found Laso guilty on both aggravated battery with a deadly weapon charges. The second degree felonies carry a maximum penalty of 15 years each. Laso is not likely to face anywhere near that steep a penalty, but he is unlikely to evade some prison time when he is sentenced.